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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Krzystof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1 (1974-76) [39:16]
Metamorphosen’ Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2 (1992-95) [38:16]
Orchestral Works: Volume 4
Rec. Grzegorz Fitelberg Concert Hall, Katowice, Poland, 22-26 May 2000 DDD
NAXOS 8.555265 [77:32]


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Penderecki’s ‘First Violin Concerto’ was premiered in April 1977 by Isaac Stern. It caused something of an outcry in new music circles due to its reliance on traditional forms and harmonies. It must be said, however, that although its musical language isn’t difficult, its emotional language is. Every note of this single movement piece of over 39 minutes duration is soaked in anguish. At times it feels as though Penderecki is trying to distil the essence of his most successful avant-garde work, the frightening and moving ‘Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima’ into a more conventional and easily assimilated musical framework. It is surely not too fanciful to suggest that the composer’s boyhood experiences in wartime Poland shaped this piece; menacing march rhythms pervade the texture and the shrillness and violence of the many climaxes are suggestive of the machinery of war.

Comparisons with other composers are difficult with such a heartfelt piece, although Shostakovich and Bruckner spring to mind; a more meaningful comparison might be with the paintings of Kitaj, semi-abstract musings on the nature of pain and suffering. Formally the piece seems to me rather episodic, although the expressive power of Penderecki’s orchestration is never in doubt.

The Second Concerto, titled Metamorphosen was dedicated to Anne-Sophie Mütter and first performed by the Central German Radio Orchestra shortly after its completion in 1995. Although it explores similar territory to the First Concerto the more vibrant rhythms and cleaner orchestration make the work more appealing to the casual listener. Some traditionalists however may feel that a single movement work of such a length would need a strong structure to prevent it collapsing under its own weight and indeed the piece may seem to some ears not to sustain its length. The title "Metamorphosen" refers to the way themes gradually develop and change as the piece progresses; this process is used in both concertos, and its success is a matter of personal opinion. Admirers of this composer, of whom there are of course many, will no doubt be thrilled to find such a generously filled disc at such a bargain price and they need have no worries about either performance or sound quality, both of which are excellent.

Soloists Konstanty Kulka in the First Concerto and Chee-Yun in the Second both deal superbly with the challenges posed by these complex and challenging works.

Steve Meek

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